The Little Prince

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Themes and Colors
Relationships Theme Icon
The True and the Essential Theme Icon
Exploration vs. Narrowmindedness Theme Icon
Childhood vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Innocence Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Little Prince, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Childhood vs. Adulthood Theme Icon

The story often compares children to grownups, depicting grownups as a group of people who have lost their sense of imagination and the ability to see what's essential. The various grownups presented throughout the story have only utilitarian concerns and are ruled by vices like pride and greed. Unlike children, they've lost the ability to understand the true value of a friendship, the beauty of a house, or the things that aren't explicitly shown in a drawing.

However, the pilot's case shows that this condition can be reversed. The little prince's appearance helps him start to see the importance of establishing ties and wasting time on drawings again, even though, as he admits, he has "had to grow old."

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Childhood vs. Adulthood ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Childhood vs. Adulthood appears in each chapter of The Little Prince. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Childhood vs. Adulthood Quotes in The Little Prince

Below you will find the important quotes in The Little Prince related to the theme of Childhood vs. Adulthood.
Chapter 1 Quotes

In the course of this life I have had a great many encounters with a great many people who have been concerned with matters of consequence. I have lived a great deal among grown−ups. I have seen them intimately, close at hand. And that hasn't much improved my opinion of them.

Related Characters: The Pilot/Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator is explaining his test for learning whether or not he can speak of essential, interesting things to other grown-ups that he meets: whether or not they are able to see that his drawing is of not a hat but an elephant inside a boa constrictor. When the narrator says "matters of consequences," he uses the term to mean things of importance to grown-ups, which have little to do with what the book will argue is really important. 

Here, the narrator sets out to prove his authority in telling the story that follows. Since he has spent time among other grown-ups, he knows what they are like, and he is able to adequately judge the difference between them and children. Already, of course, we know which side the narrator is on, but his rhetorical openness also helps to win over the reader as the case is made for an embrace of the innocence, wonder, and magic of childhood.


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Chapter 4 Quotes

On making his discovery, the astronomer had presented it to the International Astronomical Congress, in a great demonstration. But he was in Turkish costume, and so nobody would believe what he said.

Grown−ups are like that...

Related Characters: The Pilot/Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

The pilot is relating the story of the discovery of the planet, asteroid B-612, where he believes the little prince comes from. People only believed the report about the planet, he notes, when the astronomer - a Turkish man - wore European dress: when the same man had worn his native Turkish costume, no one had believed him. 

The pilot thus uses this story to critique narrow-mindedness, particularly regarding Western prejudices against people from other places and with other customs and appearances. But he makes an even more provocative statement than that when he argues that the story does not just account for European prejudice, but for prejudice by grown-ups in general. It is a characteristic of all adults, the argument goes, to be narrow-minded and petty, and to refuse to hear what is true because of superficial things like what someone looks like. Only children are open-minded and curious enough to really listen to what someone has to say, and to concentrate on the essential rather than being distracted by the irrelevant and the superficial. The pilot does not account for why this capacity shrinks, but it is implied that it must take place somehow in the process of growing up.

For I do not want any one to read my book carelessly. I have suffered too much grief in setting down these memories. Six years have already passed since my friend went away from me, with his sheep. If I try to describe him here, it is to make sure that I shall not forget him. To forget a friend is sad. Not every one has had a friend. And if I forget him, I may become like the grown−ups who are no longer interested in anything but figures...

Related Characters: The Pilot/Narrator (speaker), The Little Prince
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

The pilot has apologized for not beginning his book with "Once upon a time..." and states that although he looks down upon the obsession of grown-ups with precise facts and figures, he reluctantly decided to be as precise as possible at the beginning. His reason for doing so, however, is so as not to become like the adults he scorns. Part of what these grown-ups miss, according to the pilot, is the joy and beauty that comes from deep, meaningful relationships. This sort of relationship is something that the pilot has had with the little prince, and he recognizes that it is precious and rare enough that he should do all he can so as not to forget him.

The pilot/narrator thus seems to foretell a rather melancholy ending to the story, since it seems that it will end with the separation between the pilot and the little prince. What rescues the story from being a tragedy though, is, at the very least, the fact that the pilot has gained something essential through his relationship with the prince.

In certain more important details I shall make mistakes, also. But that is something that will not be my fault. My friend never explained anything to me. He thought, perhaps, that I was like himself. But I, alas, do not know how to see sheep through the walls of boxes. Perhaps I am a little like the grown−ups. I have had to grow old.

Related Characters: The Pilot/Narrator (speaker), The Little Prince
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

As the narrator continues to explain why he has tried to be as precise as possible - in order to never forget his friend, the little prince - he acknowledges that he will sometimes make mistakes or fail to tell the story exactly as it was. The way the narrator excuses himself from these mistakes is by referencing the fundamental difference between himself and the prince. As the epitome of childhood innocence and beauty, the prince is creative and imaginative - he can "see sheep through the walls of boxes," a gift that allows him to be flexible and, more importantly, to see through what is only seemingly there into the essential truth lying beneath. 

Although the narrator tends to consider childhood and adulthood as two separate, totally distinct things, here he admits that this separation can be blurred. Children, of course, grow up, and part of the bittersweet tone of this passage stems from the narrator's wistfulness at having to lose the innocence of youth as he has grown old. Still, he insists and will continue to insist that childhood is a state of mind as much as it is a physical range of ages: it is something that can easily be lost as one ages, but if one works hard enough, one can also try to keep it from slipping away.

Chapter 7 Quotes

"I know a planet where there is a certain red−faced gentleman. He has never smelled a flower. He has never looked at a star. He has never loved any one. He has never done anything in his life but add up figures. And all day he says over and over, just like you: 'I am busy with matters of consequence!' And that makes him swell up with pride. But he is not a man—he is a mushroom!"

Related Characters: The Little Prince (speaker), The Businessman
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

The little prince is growing increasingly frustrated with the pilot, who is, in turn, frustrated with the prince for distracting him while he attempts to fix the motor of his plane. When the pilot finally exclaims that he is dealing with "matters of consequence," the prince is appalled: he has thought that the pilot was unlike the grown-ups he has seen, but now he realizes that the pilot reminds him of a particularly unsavory grown-up - the "red-faced gentleman" who does nothing but add up facts and figures. 

The prince has nothing but scorn for this gentleman, who believes that nothing in the world could be more important than his work. In reality, according to the prince, the man is so narrow-mindedly focused on his job (a job that, in the scheme of things, isn't actually all that important) that he is unable to see the fascinating, inviting world around him. Not only does the man remain fixated on the meaningless numbers before him, but he is also unable to develop true relationships with others, since these figures are all that concern him. The businessman is a reminder to the pilot, once again, of how perilously easy it is for him to slip out of the mentality of childhood and embrace the sorry, limited concerns of adulthood.

Chapter 13 Quotes

"Oh, no. Little golden objects that set lazy men to idle dreaming. As for me, I am concerned with matters of consequence. There is no time for idle dreaming in my life."

Related Characters: The Businessman (speaker)
Related Symbols: Stars
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

The prince and the businessman are both actually interested in some of the same things: here, namely, the stars in the sky. But while for the little prince these stars are an object of wonder and admiration, the businessman has nothing but contempt for the curiosity and dreaming that these "little golden objects" might inspire. Instead, the interest he has in them is purely material: he is interested by the stars in terms of what they can do for him, the riches that they can gain for him. These riches are what count for the businessman as "matters of consequence," a term that comes up again and again in the book. We are meant, of course, to see that what the businessman considers so important actually is entirely inessential and irrelevant to stars in their essential beauty. 

Chapter 14 Quotes

"It may well be that this man is absurd. But he is not so absurd as the king, the conceited man, the businessman, and the tippler. For at least his work has some meaning. When he lights his street lamp, it is as if he brought one more star to life, or one flower. When he puts out his lamp, he sends the flower, or the star, to sleep. That is a beautiful occupation. And since it is beautiful, it is truly useful."

Related Characters: The Little Prince (speaker), The King, The Conceited Man, The Businessman, The Lamplighter
Page Number: 57-58
Explanation and Analysis:

The little prince observes the lamplighter on a small planet with no other inhabitants, who nonetheless lights the lamp each morning and each night. Here, the prince attempts to distinguish this task from the tasks of the king, conceited man, and businessman, and asks himself why such tasks seem so different. He settles on the notion of beauty.

For the prince, use and ownership are not only related to a sense of care and protection: they also gain meaning by supporting beauty in the world. However, for him beauty is also something that only makes sense in terms of relationships - allowing another person to experience beauty is one of the greatest gifts he can imagine. This sense of generosity, as well as the creative mind that allows the prince to think in such a way, is another reminder of what distinguishes him from grown-ups.

"That man," said the little prince to himself, as he continued farther on his journey, "that man would be scorned by all the others: by the king, by the conceited man, by the tippler, by the businessman. Nevertheless he is the only one of them all who does not seem to me ridiculous. Perhaps that is because he is thinking of something else besides himself."

Related Characters: The Little Prince (speaker), The King, The Conceited Man, The Tippler, The Businessman, The Lamplighter
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

The lamplighter, according to the questions that the little prince has asked him, is not a saint: he is growing frustrated by the shorter and shorter length of the day on his planet, and he does complain to the prince. However, the prince believes that the lamplighter is more dignified and important than any of the other people he's met, people who believed themselves to be so essential despite their narrow-mindedness. T

The lamplighter's entire profession is based on a task whose sole purpose is to light the way for others, to ease a journey and to help people to see. For the prince, this emphasis on others is something that too many grown-ups have lost (it's also ironic that the king and business man would almost certainly look down on the lamplighter, thinking his menial job is beneath them).

Chapter 15 Quotes

"Exactly," the geographer said. "But I am not an explorer. I haven't a single explorer on my planet. It is not the geographer who goes out to count the towns, the rivers, the mountains, the seas, the oceans, and the deserts. The geographer is much too important to go loafing about. He does not leave his desk. But he receives the explorers in his study…"

Related Characters: The Geographer (speaker)
Page Number: 63-64
Explanation and Analysis:

Upon reaching the geographer's planet, the little prince thinks he is in for something more exciting: a geographer, after all, must know useful, relevant, and fascinating knowledge about the world around him. All too soon, however, this geographer also disappoints the prince's expectations. The geographer may not treat the prince as someone lesser than he - instead, he happily welcomes the prince into his study as an explorer - but it becomes clear here that he does indeed consider himself as more important than the explorers who go "loafing about." 

As readers, we are meant to understand that the geographer simply has things backwards. His insistence on staying inside and learning about things only second-hand is not a strength but a severe limitation, preventing him from the true learning that happens when one goes out into the unknown. We thus are given another example of the weaknesses of adults compared to children: grown-ups are all too willing to be satisfied with second-hand "authority," rather than being curious and brave enough to seek it out for themselves.

Chapter 17 Quotes

All humanity could be piled up on a small Pacific islet.

The grown−ups, to be sure, will not believe you when you tell them that. They imagine that they fill a great deal of space. They fancy themselves as important as the baobabs. You should advise them, then, to make their own calculations. They adore figures, and that will please them. But do not waste your time on this extra task. It is unnecessary. You have, I know, confidence in me.

Related Characters: The Pilot/Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 68-70
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator shifts his focus from the prince's adventures on the tiny planets he has visited to the planet Earth, where in the story he is about to land. He has just contrasted Earth to the small planets and their solitary inhabitants, but now he suggests that, although humans take up a great deal of space as they live now, they could in fact be confined to almost as small a surface as those minuscule planets. 

That grown-ups would refuse to believe this statement, according to the narrator, is not because they are skeptical of such mathematical calculations – indeed, the pilot notes how much adults adore such figures – but because they have such an inflated sense of self-worth. In the minds of adults, in addition, taking up physical space is equivalent to being important – an equivalence that is just another reminder, in the book, about the silly mistakes that can stem from adults' narrow-minded focus on what is in front of their eyes, as opposed to what is really valuable. 

Chapter 22 Quotes

"Only the children know what they are looking for," said the little prince. "They waste their time over a rag doll and it becomes very important to them; and if anybody takes it away from them, they cry..."

"They are lucky," the switchman said.

Related Characters: The Little Prince (speaker), The Railway Switchman (speaker)
Page Number: 89
Explanation and Analysis:

The little prince is speaking with a railway switchman, who tells him that the adults on the train journeys are usually bored and restless, their reasons for travel seeming pointless, while the children are fascinated by what is outside their windows. The prince mulls over this difference. For him, it is yet another example of what grown-ups are missing: as they focus on the destination, even if that destination is of questionable importance, they miss the beauty of what lies between two points, and they miss out on the opportunity to be struck with admiration or awe.

Still, the prince doesn't make a contrast between goal-driven adults and aimless children: instead, he argues that children are more likely to know what they are looking for, because they focus on what is important rather than growing obsessed with irrelevant, even random goals. The switchman seems to acknowledge that adults have lost something wonderful, even as he hears the story of children crying when a rag doll is taken away from them: he seems to imply that choosing to cherish something freely and lovingly is a gift in itself, even if it may risk being taken away.

Chapter 27 Quotes

Here, then, is a great mystery. For you who also love the little prince, and for me, nothing in the universe can be the same if somewhere, we do not know where, a sheep that we never saw has—yes or no?—eaten a rose...

Look up at the sky. Ask yourselves: is it yes or no? Has the sheep eaten the flower? And you will see how everything changes...

And no grown−up will ever understand that this is a matter of so much importance!

Related Characters: The Pilot/Narrator (speaker), The Little Prince, The Rose/Flower
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:

As the narrator comes to the end of his story, he directly addresses the reader, asking us to align ourselves with the world view that he has developed through his relationship with the little prince. Throughout The Little Prince, we have seen a contrast between two ways of thinking: there is the grown-up way of thinking, which chooses what to value based on strange, distanced, and close-minded calculations; and there is the child's way of thinking, which chooses what to cherish based on essential, real values. Children do not need to think about whether what they love is "valuable" in economic or political terms: instead, their very act of choosing to love is what creates value. 

If the sheep has eaten the flower, this will undeniably be a great, painful loss for the prince, and the fact that even one person has loved the flower should make it a loss for us too. As he closes, then, the narrator challenges us to think about what is essential and what is truly valuable, and to break out of the way of thinking that most adults are condemned to follow.